Fresh-flavored sensational salsas


The sizzle season arrived early this year.

We're talking serious salsa weather, guys.

And no, I don't mean salsa, the music.

Nor do I refer to the gloppy, spicy, red salsa Mexican restaurants serve as a dip for tortilla chips or the stuff supermarkets sell in jars.

The salsa that's suddenly chic with home cooks is the fresh-flavored stuff that restaurant chefs began concocting in recent years to dress up fish, meat and poultry entrees without piling on fat or extra calories.

Patterned after salsa cruda, an uncooked sauce made with tomatoes, cilantro, hot pepper and lime -- with onion and garlic as optional additions -- the range of salsas includes fruits and vegetables.

Fresh pineapple is the fruit of choice with many salsa fans, but apricots, peaches, nectarines, strawberries, melons, cherries, figs, grapes and other juicy fruits also work well.

Cilantro remains popular as the herbal addition, but it's been joined by mint, chives, parsley and dill.

The most interesting salsas are made of ingredients that are chopped coarsely but in relatively small pieces. Nothing is cooked. There is no oil added. Lemon or lime juice helps the flavors to blend.

Sound simple? It is. So simple that, inspired by the fresh produce at a local market, I made a half-dozen salsas in a single afternoon.

Although you could make your salsa without a food processor, I used mine for the chopping, doing one ingredient at a time and varying the size of the pieces of each.

That made for better color as well as more interesting texture. The salsa concocted from orange, red, yellow and green peppers, for example, looked like confetti.

I served it at room temperature over pot roast that had simmered all day in a slow cooker. The roast was very lean and dry.

The salsa addition worked wonders, brightening the flavor and appearance of this humble meat and more than compensating for the dryness.

The confetti salsa was fairly similar to salsa cruda, except that it contained sweet peppers rather than tomatoes.

Using fresh apricots, fresh mint, lemon juice and a jalapeno pepper, I created a second salsa that went well with lamb steaks from the outdoor gas grill.

Because the apricots were picked somewhat unripe and lacked the sweetness I wanted, I added a handful of dried apricots.

A small cantaloupe, chopped and seasoned with cilantro, lime, jalapeno pepper and black pepper, made a wonderful spoon-on salsa for slices of roast chicken breast.

My salmon cakes, a splendid use for canned salmon, are a lot better than they sound but they're also conspicuously plain.

When I served them recently, I might have thrown calories and caution to the wind and made some rich tartar sauce.

Instead, I salsa-ed.

I used arugula and cucumber, plus garlic, lime juice and hot pepper, to make a salsa that provided just the right bright, with-it touch.

The baby bunnies that ate our strawberries missed the blueberries this year. That left me with the inspiration for a blueberry salsa just right with turkey burgers.

In addition to the blueberries, I'll use red onion and green kiwi fruit for flavor and color. The salsa's remaining ingredients include chopped fresh mint, hot pepper and ginger.

The most exotic of my summer salas earned that distinction because it was made with an Asian pear. The rough-skinned fruit was peeled, grated on the coarse side,then seasoned with ginger, lime juice and chopped mint.

The unusual texture and the delicate perfume made this a light, interesting partner for boneless, lightly smoked pork chops.

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